Smashing success: Thousands gather for for USTA’s AANHPI Tennis Fest in Cunningham Park

Families enjoyed a day filled with fun tennis related activities at the second annual AANHPI Tennis Festival.
Photo by Athena Dawson

Over 1,300 families signed up for a day filled with fun, food and tennis at the USTA Eastern’s second annual Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Tennis Festival.

The festival celebrated AANHPI cultures, bringing together tennis enthusiasts of all ages during the community’s heritage month.

Families gathered on Saturday, May 11, at the Cunningham Park tennis courts in Fresh Meadows for an array of exciting activities, including various food vendors, performances and a special exhibition match featuring two-time Grand Slam doubles champion Vania King.

Jocelyn Cruz-Alfalla, USTA Eastern’s director of schools and community tennis, said the event aimed to highlight various AANHPI cultures through food, activities and tennis. “I wanted to really make this event about coming together, celebrating and being one community, no matter what culture you are,” she said. 

Cruz-Alfalla has been a lifelong tennis lover, and hoped that Saturday’s tennis festival would inspire some of the younger attendees to also fall in love with the sport. “It’s more about exposing people to the game and the sport and then using the voice of celebration to get people to try tennis if they haven’t,” she said. Cruz-Alfalla also thanked Cunningham Tennis Center for partnering with USTA Eastern and providing access to courts for free tennis lessons for all ages. 

Jacelyn Cruz-Alfalla (center) holds a proclamation declaring that May is National Tennis Month. Photo by Athena Dawson

Many of the volunteers at Saturday’s event expressed their excitement about uplifting the AANHPI community through the sport of tennis. “I would say it makes it more inclusive in terms of diversity, it opens up new opportunities, and I think it is really hopeful for the future,” said Lily Lee, a tennis festival volunteer and tennis coach.

David Williams, director of diversity equity and inclusion at USTA Eastern, echoed Lee’s views, saying that the festival shows that the organization embraces cultural diversity and highlights that tennis is available for everyone. “Just having the different arts and crafts, players, vendors and all of these groups coming out on this wonderful day, we want to make sure everyone is represented,” he said. “If you can see yourself playing tennis at an event like this, you can see yourself playing this sport for a lifetime,” he said.

The tennis festival featured an array of local Asian-owned businesses that catered to the eager crowd. Joel and Rachel Javier, a husband and wife duo and owners of Flip Eats, a private chef company, were all smiles as they showcased their “Liquid Gold” condiments, inspired by their Filipino heritage. Their “Liquid Gold” is a garlic crisp condiment inspired by a popular Filipino fried rice dish called sinangag. “We’re really happy to be a part of this,” said Rachel. “The AANHPI community is really great here [in New York]… specifically with the Filipino community; what’s really great is that we are really lifting each other up. Events like this really help us to support each other,” she said.

Joel and Rachel Javier, owners of Flip Eats, showcase their products at the tennis festival. Photo by Athena Dawson

Other vendors, such as Jude Rodriguez and Prem Chouhan, owners of Spice Symphony, served North Indian and Indo-Chinese fusion food for attendees. “It’s great to come here and showcase our food to Queens,” said Chouhan. Guests had the opportunity to choose from a delicious variety of foods, including samosas, chicken lollipops and vegetable Manchurian. 

Throughout the tennis festival, families engaged with many educational and arts and crafts opportunities, where kids were able to play different games related to various AANHPI cultures. Many of the children played Ula Maika, a Hawaiian game similar to bowling, where players roll coconuts between two stakes. 

A few of the kids play Ula Maika, a Hawaiian game similar to bowling. Photo by Athena Dawson

Jenny Ho-Suh, a Briarwood resident and mom of one of the young players, said she wanted to expose her kids to tennis and have a fun day at the park. “There’s food, there’s games, it’s really family friendly. I’m just here for my kids because I feel like they would have a lot of fun and have exposure to other Asian countries,” she said. Other parents, such as Amanda Chen, said she wanted her children to have fun at the event and connect with their cultural roots. “We’re Chinese, and we don’t really get to have events and experience [games] that I used to play. They also learn Chinese too, so they put what they learned in their everyday life into coming to this event,” she said. 

During the festival, families gathered to watch engaging performances by the NYC Chinese Cultural Center. The performances included Shaolin kung fu, one of the oldest and most famous styles of Chinese martial arts, and a Chinese classical dance piece entitled “Crimson Soliloquy.”

Performers from the NYC Chinese Cultural Center wowed the crowd. Photo by Athena Dawson

After the performances, journalist Michelle Yu led a panel discussion with King, cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Ruan and Udai Tambar, CEO of the New York Junior Tennis and Learning. (NYJTL) about the health benefits of tennis and their experiences in the sport as Asian Americans. 

During the panel, King explained that her passion for the sport on and off the court has led her to promote Asian Americans in tennis through her organization, the Asian American Pacific Islander Tennis Association. “It really started because the AANHPI community is so strong, especially in tennis. It has the highest rate of participation compared to all other ethnic groups, and yet there was no real group supporting us,” she said.

Tambar added that Queens has a significant Asian population, and more than half of the students registered in NYJTL community tennis programs are Asian American. “The talent is there, and it’s about creating opportunities,” he said. “I actually learned to play tennis in this park here, so this is like coming back home. This is really exciting to see Cunningham Park being celebrated as a hub for the Asian American community,” he said.

(Left to right) Two-time Grand-Slam Doubles champion Vania King, Dr. Jonathan Ruan, Udai Tambar, CEO of NYJTL, and journalist Michelle Yu. Photo by Athena Dawson

Dr. Ruan also addressed the crowd, outlining the benefits tennis has on mental and physical health: “Mental health is so important in every aspect of our lives. Whether you’re playing tennis casually or competitively, it’s going to be with other people. What that does is adds to the fun of playing tennis, and it reduces anxiety and isolation,” he said. “Go out there and play tennis.”

After the panel, the crowd was greeted by State Sen. John Liu (D-16) and Assemblymember Nily Rozic (D-25), who presented a proclamation to USTA Eastern organizers that designates May as National Tennis Month. Liu said that the festival is a reminder of the resilience of the Asian American community, especially considering the anti-Asian hate that they faced during the pandemic. “We’ve seen what has happened the last few years with anti-Asian hate. We have to understand that there is more work to do, and that means branching out in all aspects of life, even the all-important sport of tennis,” he said.

The event closed with an exciting exhibition doubles match between King and a few local college-aged players.